Monarch Mission training photo by Liz Soper
Jennifer Hammonds, NWF’s K-12 Senior Manager works with teachers on exploring the Monarch Mission curriculum. Photo by Liz Soper

Did you know that monarch butterfly larva chew a notch in the stalk of a leaf before they eat it? Amazingly so, this behavior is called “leaf notching” and it allows monarch caterpillars to cut off the supply of latex (which is toxic to monarchs) to the leaves, allowing them to safely eat the milkweed. This is just one amazing fact that teachers learned about monarch butterflies when participating in the National Wildlife Federation Monarch Mission teacher training in Springfield, MA on February 3, 2018.

Over 60 individuals, including teachers, district curriculum staff and Springfield Park and Recreation employees came together for a day long professional development workshop to kick off the Monarch Mission program in Springfield, MA. This program sponsored by the LEGO Community Fund, U.S., and coordinated by the National Wildlife Federation, is working with twenty-five schools in the Springfield Public School District to develop monarch recovery and pollinator gardens at each school site. These gardens not only will provide much needed habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, but will also serve as outdoor classrooms for students to engage in creative learning and play. The National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-School USA program and the Schoolyard Habitats™ program will serve as the guiding framework for the schools as they spend the rest of the school year assessing their current school grounds, developing plans of actions, and then enhancing the grounds for monarchs and other pollinators.

Teachers exploring the woods photo by Liz Soper
Springfield Public School teachers explore the woods at ECOS to find key wildlife habitat elements. Photo by Liz Soper

Although the day was brutally cold and windy, participants braved the elements and spent time outdoors with National Wildlife Federation staff learning to assess the ECOS (Environmental Center for our Schools) site for key habitat elements (food, water, shelter, places to raise young). They then warmed up inside and spent the afternoon exploring the Monarch Mission curriculum and working in grade-level groups to determine connections to their curriculum. As part of this program and funding from the LEGO Community Fund, U.S., the Monarch Mission curriculum has been expanded to include a series of lessons for Pre-K classrooms.

By the end of the day participants were excited to take what they had learned back to their students and to continue to collaborate across the district. One participant had the great idea of having a school garden tour at the end of the year. “It would be so exciting to see what everyone has accomplished as part of this program and share our success,” said Caitlin Wood, a Springfield Public School teacher. “We could have our students present and invite families, community members, and even the mayor.” Springfield Parks and Recreation staff were already on that idea, and explained how they were working to get the mayor to sign the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, which will expand the work the schools are doing into the community of Springfield. Stay tuned for more results!

Learn more about Schoolyard Habitats!